I used to think going to school was a given. I knew it would be hard sometimes, that I'd have difficult classes, and that I'd struggle with some of the work. But I never thought I would struggle so much just for the chance to go into a classroom and learn.
Things were OK until my freshman year of high school, when the harassment started. Other kids would push me while calling me slurs, tell me that guys don't dress like me, and yell at me to be normal and stop acting like a girl. I told my administration, and they just asked why I thought I was being harassed, and what I could have done to stop it. I already felt alone and ashamed because of the bullying. My school made me feel like I had done something wrong just for being the person that I am.
To avoid the harassment, I felt like I had no choice but to avoid school. After I started losing credits, I realized skipping school wasn't a solution and that if I was to become something, I must attend even if it was torment. I started showing up again, my grades picked up, and I pushed myself through the days.
But it wasn't enough. My school said I was too far behind, and transferred me to another school to make up the credits. After blaming me for my own harassment, my school told me this move was for my own good.
The school they sent me to wasn't really a school, at least the way I think of it. I only attended and got to see a teacher once a week. The rest of the time they just gave me a packet to read and to fill out on my own, without any feedback. That was it. I wasn't able to learn like that, without a teacher and with material I didn't understand by myself. Making up credits was important, but so was an education.
I left that school in search of a new school near my home in San Diego where I would be able to go to a classroom and learn. When I found nothing, I moved to L.A. and lived with my aunt to see if there was a school I could go to there. Again, I found nothing. All of the schools were full and wouldn't take me.
My entire experience with high school has felt like one person after another, from classmates to school officials, telling me I'm not wanted and I'm not worthy of an education. And I am not the only LGBTQ student of color being told that. This week, GSA Network and Crossroads Collaborative released a study that backs up what I've been seeing: gender nonconforming youth and LGBTQ youth of color like me are being blamed for our own victimization, targeted for harassment and punishment, treated like criminals, and ultimately pushed out of school.
I'm now back in San Diego, and I've enrolled myself in the one program I finally found that would let me go to class and learn from a teacher - a county community school for students on probation. I am constantly under surveillance at this new school, not allowed to participate in activities, eat lunch with other students, or even go to the bathroom without being monitored. The students here have been labeled criminals, and almost all of us are youth of color. I'm one of the only students who's not on probation, but I've found that the other students' stories are not so different from mine. They were pushed out of the schools they used to go to, where, instead of supporting them, their administration would blame them for any trouble that started. The only difference is that my school never even bothered trying to find me guilty of anything - except for being myself.
No young person should have to go through torment, move cities, or be treated like a criminal just to get an education. There's a movement building to push back against school pushout, and the LGBTQ community needs to be a big part of it.
This week is the Dignity In Schools Campaign's National Week of Action Against School Pushout, and the Advancement Project and GSA Network put out a set of recommendations to end this. There are recommended actions for everyone who cares about giving LGBTQ youth a chance, from young people themselves to school staff and policymakers. Let's spread the word and push back.
ABRAM BOLANOS is an 18-year-old student from San Diego and a youth leader for GSA Network. To learn more about the organization and the National Week of Action on School Pushout, visit GSANetwork.org.